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Labour relations in Botswana: a historical perspective

The Botswana labour movement predates independence, though, according to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union in Botswana: Country Report 2003, there was no organized labour in the form of vibrant trade unions which could effectively articulate the workers interests until 1948.

Post 1948, the labour movement became very robust and active (Hunyepa, 2008). In fact, it is incontrovertible that the labour movement contributed significantly to Botswanas attainment of independence (Kodzo and Ntumy, 2015).

Though regional in nature, the Francistown Employees Union (FEU) and Serowe Workers Union (SWU) contributed immensely to Botswanas independence (Hunyepa, 2008).

The same applies to the Bechuanaland Protectorate Workers’ Union (BPWU), Bechuanaland Trade Union Congress (BTUC), Bechuanaland General Workers Organisation (BGWO), Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Bechuanaland Protectorate African Teachers’ Association (BPATA) and African Civil Service Association (ACSA).

BCSA and BTU were formed in 1937 and 1949 respectively. BCSA, now Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), fought for the improvement of workers’ conditions of service from time immemorial (Hunyepa, 2008).

BCSA teamed up with the African Advisory Council (AAC) in its campaigns against the ill-treatment of Africans by the colonial government (Hunyepa, 2008). The AAC, whose leadership was dominated by Chiefs and a few educated Batswana, was the peoples torchbearer in as far as political emancipation was concerned (Hunyepa, 2008).

During the colonial era, when Botswana, then Bechuanaland Protectorate, was under British protection, which I submit was colonisation disguised as protection, labour legislation was premised on two labour statutes which applied in the Cape Colony. These statutes were the Masters and Servants Act of 1856 and the Protection of African Labourers Proclamation 14 of 1936.

The basis for applying these colonial statutes, which were applied mutatis mutandis in the Protectorate as they were in the Cape Colony ( Fombad The Botswana Legal System 57), was the British Order in Council (Bechuanaland and Protectorate General Administration Order in Council of 1891; Fombad The Botswana Legal System 51), decreed by Her Majesty the Queen in pursuance of the powers bestowed upon her by the Foreign Jurisdictions Act.

The Masters and Servants Act applied to Bechuanaland from 1909 to 1963. The Protection of African Labourers Proclamation, which provided employees with very limited protection of their rights and employment security, also applied to Bechuanaland until 1963.

These Acts were infamous especially because the colonial government was believed to be insensitive to the plight of Africans and employees rights (Kalonda, 37). These labour laws were untimely repealed in 1963 when Bechuanaland promulgated her first employment statute, the Employment Law.

This was done in an effort to improve labour relations in the country as well as to secure cordial industrial relations and workplace peace. The Government of Botswana did this by enacting relatively worker-friendly labour legislation immediately after independence in 1966(Kalonda, 37).

Consequently, Botswanas labour relations have, until 2011, been cordial, with only one major strike led by the Manual Workers Union in 1995.The result was the famous National Amalgamated Local Central Government Workers Union v Attorney General 1995 BLR 48 (CA) case.

Botswana has ratified and domesticated all the fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO)s Conventions. Consequently, her labour legislation developed to give effect to the ILO Conventions. First, was the Trade Union and Trade Dispute Proclamation, 1942 which, according to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union in Botswana: Country Report 2003, legalised trade unions.

In 1969, the Trade Unions and Trade Dispute Proclamation (TUTDP) was repealed and replaced with the Trade Dispute Act No. 28 of 1969. This Act, inter alia, provided for the establishment of the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal and a Board of Inquiry (IATBI).

It also made provision for settlement of trade disputes and control and regulation of strikes and lockouts. In 1992, the Trade Disputes Amendment Act (TDAA) of 1992 was passed. It replaced the Office of the Permanent Arbitrator with the Industrial Court. It, according to Veronica Moroka & 2 Others v The Attorney General and Another, Court of Appeal Civil Appeal No. CACGB-121-17, also provided for the appointment of judges of the Industrial Court.

This amendment was followed by another in 2004 which resulted in the enactment of a comprehensive TDA which made provision for employer organisations. For many years, only industrial class workers were permitted to unionise in the Public Service.

In 2004, significant amendments were made to the Trade Union and Employers’ Organisation Act, Cap 48:01 which enabled public servants who were not industrial class workers to unionise for the first time in the country’s history.

Previously, public servants could only form staff associations as was the case with Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA), Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers (BOFESETE), Botswana Unified Local Government Service Association (BULGASA), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Association of Botswana Tertiary Education Lecturers (ABOTEL), all of which were staff associations registered in terms of the Societies Act.

Today, Botswana has many registered trade unions within the public service, most of which are affiliates of BOFEPUSU which was formed in 2009 when most of its founding members defected from Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).

BOFEPUSUs founding members were BOPEU and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU), formerly Botswana Manual Workers Union. BFTUs members are mainly private sector trade unions except for BOPEU, which disaffiliated from BOFEPUSU in 2015, and Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU).

In 2016, there was yet another amendment to the Trade Disputes Act (TDA) whose principal object was to provide for the settlement of trade disputes by the Commissioner of Labour, mediators and arbitrators; for the establishment of the Industrial Court as a court of law and equity; for the recognition of trade unions at the workplace and industry level; for the determination of industrial action, protection of essential services, life and property during industrial action; and for matters incidental or connected therewith.

The year 2011 was a turning point in Botswanas labour relations history. BOFEPUSU, following Governments rejection of its 16% wage increase demand, embarked on countrywide public sector strike.

A total of 2 934 employees, who were deemed to be essential service employees and therefore had no right to strike, as held in The Attorney General v Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities Workers Union and 3
Others
, Case No. CACGB-053-12, lost their jobs.

Government responded to the strike by widening the categorisation of essential services through Statutory Instrument No. 57 of 2011. Government used the Statutory Instrument, made under section 49 of the TDA, to declare certain professions, including teaching, as essential services.

BOFEPUSU referred the matter to the Courts which struck down section 49 of the TDA as unconstitutional in Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities Workers Union v The Attorney General, Case No. MAHLB-000631-11 and The Attorney General v Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities
Workers Union,
Case No. CACGB-053-12.

In July 2016, Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) reported Botswana to the International Labour Organization (ILO), accusing it of violating two core ILO Conventions, namely Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (The Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining) and having acted contrary to the ILO framework definition of essential services. Following the report, Botswana made the short list of top aggressors and violators out of 24 countries.

In 2017, following protracted court battles relating to Governments unilateral salary increases outside the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), which resulted in the Botswana Landboards, Local Authorities & Health Workers Union v Director of Public Service
Management
, Case No MAHGB-000343/16 case, Government did the unthinkable – derecognising the PSBC.

In what the trade unions characterised as victimisation of its leaders, Government attempted to transfer certain trade union leaders, resulting in such cases as Johannes Phalaagae Tshukudu v The Director of Public Service Management & the Attorney
General
Case No. ICUR 11/16; Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang v K. K Moepeng, High Court Case No. MAHGB-000628-14 and Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang v K. K Moepeng, Civil Appeal Case No. CACGB-106-16.

As late as 2018, while in the middle of negotiations with BOFEPUSU to revive the PSBC, Government wrote a letter to all public service trade unions threatening to derecognise them if they did not regularise their registration in terms of section 46 of the Public Service Act.

BOFEPUSU went to court and interdicted the intended action, arguing that they had always had recognition agreements with Government, long before the inception of the Public Service Act in 2010.

The unions argued that this issue was put to rest after Government conceded that public service unions recognised in terms of the Trade Unions and Employers Organizations Act did not need to apply for fresh recognition under the Public Service Act in the case of Botswana Land boards and Local Authorities Workers’ Union and Ors vs. Director, Public Service Management & Anor 2010(3) BLR 351 per Tshosa J (as he then was). In this case, applicants wanted the joining of other recognised public service trade unions in the settlement of the constitution for the PSBC.

In 2018, relations between government and labour changed for the better, almost going back to the pre-2011 era. The 2019/20 and 2020/21 salary negotiations were conducted in harmony resulting in a 10% and 6% salary increase for scales A and B and C and D respectively.

Also, government committed to the reconstitution of the PSBC; and through the Trade Disputes (Amendment), Bill No. 17 of 2019, Botswana Vaccine Laboratory Services, Bank of Botswana, Diamond sorting, cutting and selling services, Operational and Maintenance Services of the railways, Sewage services, Veterinary services in the public service, Teaching services, Government Broadcasting services as well as the Immigration and Customs services have been removed from the list of essential services.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or anmorima@gmail.com

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GONE FISHING

28th March 2023

In recent years, using personal devices in working environments has become so commonplace it now has its own acronym, BOYD (Bring Your Own Device).  But as employees skip between corporate tools and personal applications on their own devices, their actions introduce a number of possible risks that should be managed and mitigated with careful consideration.  Consider these examples:

Si-lwli, a small family-run business in Wales, is arguably as niche a company as you could find, producing talking toys used to promote the Welsh language. Their potential market is small, with only some 300,000 Welsh language speakers in the world and in reality the business is really more of a hobby for the husband-and-wife team, who both still have day jobs.  Yet, despite still managing to be successful in terms of sales, the business is now fighting for survival after recently falling prey to cybercriminals. Emails between Si-Iwli and their Chinese suppliers were intercepted by hackers who altered the banking details in the correspondence, causing Si-Iwli to hand over £18,000 (around P ¼ m) to the thieves. That might not sound much to a large enterprise, but to a small or medium business it can be devastating.

Another recent SMB hacking story which appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerned Innovative Higher Ed Consulting (IHED) Inc, a small New York start-up with a handful of employees. IHED didn’t even have a website, but fraudsters were able to run stolen credit card numbers through the company’s payment system and reverse the charges to the tune of $27,000, around the same loss faced by Si-Iwli.  As the WSJ put it, the hackers completely destroyed the company, forcing its owners to fold.

And in May 2019, the city of Baltimore’s computer system was hit by a ransomware attack, with hackers using a variant called RobinHood. The hack, which has lasted more than a month, paralysed the computer system for city employees, with the hackers demanding a payment in Bitcoin to give access back to the city.

Of course, hackers target governments or business giants  but small and medium businesses are certainly not immune. In fact, 67% of SMBs reported that they had experienced a cyber attack across a period of 12 months, according to a 2018 survey carried out by security research firm Ponemon Institute. Additionally, Verizon issued a report in May 2019 that small businesses accounted for 43% of its reported data breaches.  Once seen as less vulnerable than PCs, smartphone attacks are on the rise, with movements like the Dark Caracal spyware campaign underlining the allure of mobile devices to hackers. Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission released a statement calling for greater education on mobile security, coming at a time when around 42% of all Android devices are believed to not carry the latest security updates.

This is an era when employees increasingly use their smartphones for work-related purposes so is your business doing enough to protect against data breaches on their employees’ phones? The SME Cyber Crime Survey 2018 carried out for risk management specialists AON showed that more than 80% of small businesses did not view this as a threat yet if as shown, 67% of SMBs were said to have been victims of hacking, either the stats are wrong or business owners are underestimating their vulnerability.  A 2019 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the latter, stating that the majority of global businesses are unprepared for cyber attacks.

Consider that a workstation no longer means a desk in an office: It can be a phone in the back of a taxi or Uber; a laptop in a coffee shop, or a tablet in an airport lounge.  Wherever the device is used, employees can potentially install applications that could be harmful to your business, even from something as seemingly insignificant as clicking on an accidental download or opening a link on a phishing email.  Out of the physical workplace, your employees’ activities might not have the same protections as they would on a company-monitored PC.

Yet many businesses not only encourage their employees to work remotely, but assume working from coffee shops, bookstores, and airports can boost employees’ productivity.  Unfortunately, many remote hot spots do not provide secure Wi-Fi so if your employee is accessing their work account on unsecured public Wi-Fi,  sensitive business data could be at risk. Furthermore, even if your employee uses a company smartphone or has access to company data through a personal mobile device, there is always a chance data could be in jeopardy with a lost or stolen device, even information as basic as clients’ addresses and phone numbers.

BOYDs are also at risk from malware designed to harm and infect the host system, transmittable to smartphones when downloading malicious third-party apps.  Then there is ransomware, a type of malware used by hackers to specifically take control of a system’s data, blocking access or threatening to release sensitive information unless a ransom is paid such as the one which affected Baltimore.  Ransomware attacks are on the increase,  predicted to occur every 14 seconds, potentially costing billions of dollars per year.

Lastly there is phishing – the cyber equivalent of the metaphorical fishing exercise –  whereby  cybercriminals attempt to obtain sensitive data –usernames, passwords, credit card details –usually through a phoney email designed to look legitimate which directs the user to a fraudulent website or requests the data be emailed back directly. Most of us like to think we could recognize a phishing email when we see it, but these emails have become more sophisticated and can come through other forms of communication such as messaging apps.

Bottom line is to be aware of the potential problems with BOYDs and if in doubt,  consult your IT security consultants.  You can’t put the own-device genie back in the bottle but you can make data protection one of your three wishes!

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“I Propose to Diana Tonight”

28th March 2023

About five days before Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed landed in Paris, General Atiku, a certain Edward Williams was taking a walk in a woods in the Welsh town of Mountain Ash. Williams, then 73, was a psychic of some renown. He had in the past foretold assassination attempts on US President Ronald Reagan, which occurred on March 30, 1981, and Pope John Paul II, which came to pass on May 13, 1981.

As he trudged the woods, Williams  had a sudden premonition that pointed to Diana’s imminent fate as per Christopher Andersen’s book The Day Diana Died. “When the vision struck me, it was as if everything around me was obscured and replaced by shadowy figures,” Williams was later to reminisce. “In the middle was the face of Princess Diana. Her expression was sad and full of pathos. She was wearing what looked like a floral dress with a short dark cardigan. But it was vague. I went cold with fear and knew it was a sign that she was in danger.”

Williams hastily beat a retreat to his home, which he shared with his wife Mary, and related to her his presentiment, trembling like an aspen leaf as he did so. “I have never seen him so upset,” Mary recounted. “He felt he was given a sign and when he came back from his walk he was deeply shaken.”

The following day, Williams frantically sauntered into a police station to inform the police of his premonition. The officer who attended to him would have dismissed him as no more than a crackpot but he treated him seriously in view of the accuracy of his past predictions. He  took a statement and immediately passed it on to the Special Branch Investigative  Unit.

The report read as follows:

“On 27 August, at 14:12 hrs, a man by the name of Edward Williams came to Mountain Ash police station. He said he was a psychic and predicted that Princess Diana was going to die. In previous years, he has predicted that the Pope and Ronald Reagan were going to be the victims of assassination attempts. On both occasions he was proved to be correct. Mr Williams appeared to be quite normal.”

Williams, General, was spot-on as usual: four days later, the princess was no more.

Meanwhile, General,  even as Dodi and Diana were making their way to the Fayed-owned Ritz Hotel in central Paris, British newspapers were awash with headlines that suggested Diana was kind of deranged. Writes Andrew Morton in Diana in Pursuit of Love: “In The Independent Diana was described as ‘a woman with fundamentally nothing to say about anything’. She was ‘suffering from a form of arrested development’. ‘Isn’t it time she started using her head?’ asked The Mail on Sunday. The Sunday Mirror printed a special supplement entitled ‘A Story of Love’; The News of the World claimed that William had demanded that Diana should split from Dodi: ‘William can’t help it, he just doesn’t like the man.’ William was reportedly ‘horrified’ and ‘doesn’t think Mr Fayed is good for his mother’ – or was that just the press projecting their own prejudices? The upmarket Sunday Times newspaper, which had first serialised my biography of the princess, now put her in the psychiatrist’s chair for daring to be wooed by a Muslim. The pop-psychologist Oliver James put Diana ‘On the Couch’, asking why she was so ‘depressed’ and desperate for love. Other tabloids piled in with dire prognostications – about Prince Philip’s hostility to the relationship, Diana’s prospect of exile, and the social ostracism she would face if she married Dodi.”

DIANA AND DODI AT THE RITZ

Before Diana and Dodi departed the Villa Windsor sometime after 16 hrs, General, one of Dodi’s bodyguards Trevor Rees-Jones furtively asked Diana as to what the programme for the evening was. This Trevor did out of sheer desperation as Dodi had ceased and desisted from telling members of his security detail, let alone anyone else for that matter, what his onward destination was for fear that that piece of information would be passed on to the paparazzi. Diana kindly obliged Trevor though her response was terse and scarcely revealing. “Well, eventually we will be going out to a restaurant”, that was all Diana said. Without advance knowledge of exactly what restaurant that was, Trevor and his colleagues’ hands were tied: they could not do a recce on it as was standard practice for the security team of a VIP principal.  Dodi certainly, General, was being recklessly by throwing such caution to the winds.

At about 16:30, Diana and Dodi drew up at the Ritz Hotel, where they were received by acting hotel manager Claude Roulet.  The front entrance of the hotel was already crawling with paparazzi, as a result of which the couple took the precaution of using the rear entrance, where hopefully they would make their entry unperturbed and unmolested. The first thing they did when they were ensconced in the now $10,000 a night Imperial Suite was to spend some time on their mobiles and set about touching base with friends, relations, and associates.  Diana called at least two people, her clairvoyant friend Rita Rogers and her favourite journalist Richard Kay of The Daily Mail.

Rita, General,  was alarmed that Diana had proceeded to venture to Paris notwithstanding the warning she had given Dodi and herself in relation to what she had seen of him  in the crystal ball when the couple had consulted her. When quizzed as to what the hell she indeed was doing in Paris at that juncture, Diana replied that she and Dodi had simply come to do some shopping, which though partially true was not the material reason they were there. “But Diana, remember what I told Dodi,” Rita said somewhat reprovingly. Diana a bit apprehensively replied, “Yes I remember. I will be careful. I promise.” Well,  she did not live up to her promise as we shall soon unpack General.

As for Richard Kay, Diana made known to him that, “I have decided I am going to radically change my life. I am going to complete my obligations to charities and to the anti-personnel land mines cause, but in November I want to completely withdraw from formal public life.”

Once she was done with her round of calls, Diana went down to the hair saloon by the hotel swimming pool to have her hair washed and blow-dried ahead of the scheduled evening dinner.

THE “TELL ME YES” RING IS DELIVERED

Since the main object of their Paris trip was to pick up the “Tell Me Yes” engagement ring  Dodi had ordered in Monte Carlo a week earlier, Dodi decided to check on Repossi Jewellery, which was right within the Ritz prencincts, known as the Place Vendome.  It could have taken less than a minute for Dodi to get to the store on foot but he decided to use a car to outsmart the paparazzi invasion. He was driven there by Trevor Rees-Jones, with Alexander Kez Wingfield and Claude Roulet following on foot, though he entered the shop alone.

The Repossi store had closed for the holiday season but Alberto Repossi, accompanied by his wife and brother-in-law,  had decided to travel all the way from his home in Monaco  and momentarily open it for the sake of the potentially highly lucrative  Dodi transaction.  Alberto, however, disappointed Dodi as the ring he had chosen was not the one  he produced. The one he showed Dodi was pricier and perhaps more exquisite but Dodi  was adamant that he wanted the exact one he had ordered as that was what Diana herself had picked. It was a ploy  on the part of Repossi to make a real killing on the sale, his excuse to that effect being that Diana deserved a ring tha was well worthy of her social pedigree.  With Dodi having expressed disaffection, Repossi rendered his apologies and assured Dodi he would make the right ring available shortly, whereupon Dodi repaired back to the hotel to await its delivery. But Dodi  did insist nonetheless that the pricier ring be delivered too in case it appealed to Diana anyway.

Repossi delivered the two rings an hour later. They were collected by Roulet. On inspecting them, Dodi chose the very one he had seen in Monte Carlo, apparently at the insistence of Diana.  There is a possibility that Diana, who was very much aware of her public image and was not comfortable with ostentatious displays of wealth, may have deliberately shown an interest in a less expensive engagement ring. It  may have been a purely romantic as opposed to a prestigious  choice for her.

The value of the ring, which was found on a wardrobe shelf in Dodi’s apartment after the crash,  has been estimated to be between $20,000 and $250,000 as Repossi has always refused to be drawn into revealing how much Dodi paid for it. The sum, which enjoyed a 25 percent discount, was in truth paid for not by Dodi himself but by his father as was the usual practice.

Dodi was also shown Repossi’s sketches for a bracelet, a watch, and earrings which he proposed to create if Diana approved of them.

DIANA AND DODI GUSH OVER IMMINENT NUPTIALS

At about 7 pm,  Dodi and Diana left the Ritz and headed for Dodi’s apartment at a place known as the Arc de Trompe. They went there to properly tog themselves out for the scheduled evening dinner. They spent two hours at the luxurious apartment. As usual, the ubiquitous paparazzi were patiently waiting for them there.

As they lingered in the apartment, Dodi beckoned over to his butler Rene Delorm  and showed him  the engagement ring. “Dodi came into my kitchen,” Delorm relates. “He looked into the hallway to check that Diana couldn’t hear and reached into his pocket and pulled out the box … He said, ‘Rene, I’m going to propose to the princess tonight. Make sure that we have champagne on ice when we come back from dinner’.” Rene described the ring as “a spectacular diamond encrusted ring, a massive emerald surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, set on a yellow and white gold band sitting in a small light-grey velvet box”.

Just before 9 pm, Dodi called the brother of his step-father, Hassan Yassen, who also was staying at the Ritz  that night, and told him that he hoped to get married to Diana by the end of the year.

Later that same evening, both Dodi and Diana would talk to Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi’s dad, and make known to him their pre-nuptial intentions. “They called me and said we’re coming back  (to London) on Sunday (August 31) and on Monday (September 1) they are

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RAMADAN – The Blessed Month of Fasting

28th March 2023

Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims, where over one billion Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn to sunset, and pray additional prayers at night. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to Allah, and self-control. It is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. As you read this Muslims the world over have already begun fasting as the month of Ramadan has commenced (depending on the sighting of the new moon).

‘The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for people, in it are clear signs of guidance and Criterion, therefore whoever of you who witnesses this month, it is obligatory on him to fast it. But whoever is ill or traveling let him fast the same number of other days, God desires ease for you and not hardship, and He desires that you complete the ordained period and glorify God for His guidance to you, that you may be grateful”. Holy Qur’an  (2 : 185)

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. The other four are: the declaration of one’s belief in Allah’s oneness and in the message of Muhammad (PBUH); regular attendance to prayer; payment of zakaat (obligatory charity); and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

As explained in an earlier article, fasting includes total abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, refraining from obscenity, avoiding getting into arguments and including abstaining from marital relations, from sunrise to sunset. While fasting may appear to some as difficult Muslims see it as an opportunity to get closer to their Lord, a chance to develop spiritually and at the same time the act of fasting builds character, discipline and self-restraint.

Just as our cars require servicing at regular intervals, so do Muslims consider Ramadan as a month in which the body and spirit undergoes as it were a ‘full service’. This ‘service’ includes heightened spiritual awareness both the mental and physical aspects and also the body undergoing a process of detoxification and some of the organs get to ‘rest’ through fasting.

Because of the intensive devotional activity fasting, Ramadan has a particularly high importance, derived from its very personal nature as an act of worship but there is nothing to stop anyone from privately violating Allah’s commandment of fasting if one chooses to do so by claiming to be fasting yet eating on the sly. This means that although fasting is obligatory, its observance is purely voluntary. If a person claims to be a Muslim, he is expected to fast in Ramadan.

 

The reward Allah gives for proper fasting is very generous. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) quotes Allah as saying: “All actions done by a human being are his own except fasting, which belongs to Me and I will reward it accordingly.” We are also told by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the reward for proper fasting is admittance into heaven.

Fasting earns great reward when it is done in a ‘proper’ manner. This is because every Muslim is required to make his worship perfect. For example perfection of fasting can be achieved through restraint of one’s feelings and emotions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that when fasting, a person should not allow himself to be drawn into a quarrel or a slanging match. He teaches us: “On a day of fasting, let no one of you indulge in any obscenity, or enter into a slanging match. Should someone abuse or fight him, let him respond by saying: ‘I am fasting!’”

This high standard of self-restraint fits in well with fasting, which is considered as an act of self-discipline. Islam requires us to couple patience with voluntary abstention from indulgence in our physical desires. The purpose of fasting helps man to attain a high degree of sublimity, discipline and self-restraint. In other words, this standard CAN BE achieved by every Muslim who knows the purpose of fasting and strives to fulfill it.

Fasting has another special aspect. It makes all people share in the feelings of hunger and thirst. In normal circumstances, people with decent income may go from one year’s end to another without experiencing the pangs of hunger which a poor person may feel every day of his life. Such an experience helps to draw the rich one’s conscience nearer to needs of the poor. A Muslim is encouraged to be more charitable and learns to give generously for a good cause.

Fasting also has a universal or communal aspect to it. As Muslims throughout the world share in this blessed act of worship, their sense of unity is enhanced by the fact that every Muslim individual joins willingly in the fulfillment of this divine commandment. This is a unity of action and purpose, since they all fast in order to be better human beings. As a person restrains himself from the things he desires most, in the hope that he will earn Allah’s pleasure, self-discipline and sacrifice become part of his nature.

The month of Ramadan can aptly be described as a “season of worship.” Fasting is the main aspect of worship in this month, because people are more attentive to their prayers, read the Qur’an more frequently and also strive to improve on their inner and outer character. Thus, their devotion is more complete and they feel much happier in Ramadan because they feel themselves to be closer to their Creator.

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